September 21, 2008

Navajo attitudes toward cancer

Cancer taboo:  The Navajo and Western medicine

Patient navigators try to break down elders' distrust and fear about health care and its white practitionersOnce a navigator has finally arrived, elders may refuse to discuss cancer, a disease for which the Navajo language has no word. It is instead "lood doo na'ziihii"--literally translated, "the sore [or wound] that does not heal." It finds people who cross the path of an animal, such as a snake, Buck Navajo Jr. explains. Or those who are near lightening bolts charging from the sky and striking the Earth.

Merely uttering "lood doo na'ziihii" can bring it on oneself.

"They say, 'I don't want to talk about it,'" said Janice Jumbo, site coordinator for the pilot program on the Navajo Nation and a doctoral candidate in epidemiology and public health. "Or they say, 'Why are you asking me these questions? I'm a healthy person now,'" she said.

Many will closely guard a diagnosis, embarrassed to tell family or friends since they feel it was their misstep or indiscretion that caused it. Some Navajo fear treatment cannot conquer cancer and see it as a death sentence.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Navajos Need to Rename Cancer.

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